Democracy: Is this the best we can do?

I have met several people that have argued that the only alternative to democracy is a dictatorship. This sort of narrow-minded view has been fed to us through our education system and through the media, which makes it very difficult to stop suddenly and say: “wait a minute, is it?”. The powers that be have made sure that any alternatives are kept quiet and that all remains as it is.

Let us think for a moment, who brought democracy. And I don’t mean the ancient Greeks who invented a system where all adults could vote (well, except women and slaves, which did represent a sizable majority). Who brought us modern democracy? Modern democracy has not sprung of recent, where the vast majority of the population is educated and informed, it sprung at a time when an elite, that may not have been the elite in place at the time, but that soon took that role, decided to implement a system of elections in order to chose who represents us and takes decisions on our behalf. Nowadays we view those men (few women there too) has heroes of our nation, glorified in history books as wonderful people that loved their country and fellow citizens.

And for a while, this system, being the novelty, and much better than what had preceded it, was very well accepted by most. It gave the feeling to all that they contributed to the decision-making which hadn’t been the case until then. This is both in recent democracies as well as old ones.

But let us look at the current situation. The weighted average voting since 2000 in India, the US, Japan, Germany, France and  the UK is of 55.4%. From this, we can say that roughly half of these voters choose the winning candidate, so 27.7% of the population with the right to choose. This almost 28%, have in power who they choose every 4 years (on average). Choice they make on the political agenda of the candidate and/or party which will not necessarily be applied. The measure of satisfaction of these 28% and the rest, is only tested after four years. And even then, the choice is limited.

Country %
India 52.51
United States 55.22
Japan 64.29
United Kingdom 62.17
Germany 75.84
France 60.15
Average voting turnout in parliamentary elections this century

All these nations and most of the consolidated democracies in this planet have a ipso-facto two-party system, and those countries with three large parties eventually will become a two-party one, with a system of alliances. Why is this? Well, since the democratic system can only work with majorities, eventually minor disagreements are resolved and large alliances are created. This gives the voter three choices, to vote for one, for the other or not to vote.

If we take again the average voting percentage (55.4%) this gives party 1 27.7%, party 2 27.7% and not voting 44.3%. And since the minority wins, no wonder the disaffection with the democratic system grows.

What would happen if not voting counted and the given parliament/congress would have empty seats to reflect that? This would make parties wake up, wouldn’t it?

But we would remain with the same system accountable every four years.

The US, Switzerland and other countries have the system of referendums where a specific question or questions are asked and the final response to the question must be made into policy/law. This is the most common example of direct democracy, which has its advantages, the people decide, but its disadvantages, questions can be confusing, the answer cannot be a simple yes/no, etc..

There are even the proponents of demarchy, a system where people are not elected in elections but by a lottery. Again with its advantages and disadvantages.

But what to me is the best system possible is that of the participatory democracy or direct democracy of the population in the decision-making and mechanisms for the removal of elected officials, which was the origin of the democracy in ancient Greece. Of course, detractors of such systems would cite the complexity of this system, since it requires those that want to, to participate in every decision that is taken, but technology is a definitive help. Moreover, establishing different decision making levels (neighbourhood, town, city, province, state) to discuss relevant issues at each level and by delegating from more local levels people on to more regional/national levels to discuss issues of that sphere. And where would the funds from this come? I can tell you that politician salaries could highly cover this.

I am not making this up out of the blue, examples and successful ones exist. The first modern case of participatory democracy was in the region of Catalonia in Spain (roughly the size of Belgium) in the 1930’s. Imagine if this could work in the times of few telephones and dirt roads, where crossing the region by horse would take 2 days minimum, what it could do today. Current large scale examples happen in the city of Porto Alegre capital of the Rio Grande do Sul region in Brazil or the recent experiences in Iceland with the economic collapse, prove that you this sort of democracy can work in large-scale areas. And people are able to participate at whichever level of involvement they want. It gives one the satisfaction of being heard and taken into consideration in every decision and on issues that affect one’s life but also that of others. This is the real democracy, this is the democracy that embraces the words “demos” and “kratos” of the ancient Greece. The rule of the people.

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3 comments on “Democracy: Is this the best we can do?
  1. I totally agree that representative democracy is failing us and that they have a tendency of becoming duopolies. I always thought proportional representation (which we don’t have but you presumably do) helps to prevent or at least ameliorate this centralisation of power (but perhaps it doesn’t). The people’s wishes are definitely not prioritised by the “democratic” systems we have adopted and some kind of debate on all this is urgently required. Incidentally, I have advocated on many occasions that a second house (The House of Lords in Britain) would be better selected by lottery (like a jury) rather than the lottery of birthright or cronyism (the current situation) but had no idea such an approach already had a name – so thanks for illuminating me!

    • magentalemon says:

      I agree with what you say over the second house. It is in most cases a cemetery for outdated politicians, who, in theory, use their knowledge and experience to recommend, advise, etc.. However since they are part of the system, they cannot will not think outside the system. So a more lottery-based system would prove to be more representative and thus democratic.

      Thanks for your insight!

  2. […] 5-star movement has a simple political agenda, pushing for real or direct democracy to replace the existing Italian political system filled with corruption; limiting all public […]

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